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Facing our vulnerabilities - Why we need to talk about health, diet and weight as Covid-19’s emerging risk factor

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How do we comprehend the scale and impact of the Coronavirus? The truth is we can’t. Like space and infinity, it is beyond human comprehension. So instead we see it through the filter of our own individual lives.

We see heroes; emergency responders, doctors, nurses, teachers, carers, refuse collectors, delivery drivers, teachers, volunteers in food banks.

And we look for villains as we pour over the sad stories and grim statistics of those who have died from Covid-19, finding new realities which are hidden from everyday view or which we have chosen, until now, not to see.  

The biggest villains, aside from the virus itself, have been ‘underlying health conditions’. But that’s where the narrative has stopped until now.

Dig a little deeper into the Covid-19 data and another injustice of Covid-19 is revealed - one we don’t often want to discuss, the impact of obesity. 

On Sunday, The Sun shared NHS data which showed obesity rates are one of the most significant risk factors associated with the virus.  The Daily Mail reported today that more than three-quarters of critically ill patients were found to be overweight or morbidly obese.  

This is a problem that belongs to all of us. 1 in 3 adults in the UK is now obese, and rates are double in our poorest communities. Almost every family is affected. 

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Experts are telling us now more than ever is the time to lose a bit of weight and get a bit fitter. But tell that to people struggling to put food on the table of any quality.
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Why are the figures so stark? Because our diets have changed dramatically over the last 30 years. And it is our poorest communities who are finding it hardest to access healthy food.  Our most vulnerable families can’t always afford fresh fruit and vegetables, and don’t always have the white goods needed to prepare home-cooked meals, on top of that they are surrounded by a much higher prevalence of fast food take-aways.

Experts are telling us now more than ever is the time to lose a bit of weight and get a bit fitter. But tell that to people struggling to put food on the table of any quality.

We need to ensure the most vulnerable among us are supported to improve the quality of their diets and to access to healthy food by:

  • Making healthy food more affordable and easier to access.  Supermarkets and local shops, our new high street heroes, can help by focusing price promotions on healthy produce.

  • If you give to food banks, make sure the food you give is healthy and good quality wherever possible.  Give what you would want to eat yourself rather than what you don’t want to eat.

  • And for all of us, getting a balanced diet, taking permitted regular exercise and getting a good nights sleep are all excellent first steps.  

Just as we are all playing our part in social distancing to slow the spread of the virus, we can all recognise the importance of a healthy diet in reducing its impact on our health and the NHS by making sure we can all access healthy food and reduce obesity rates.

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